Monday, September 27, 2010

Bad Boys vs Tortured Heroes

Team Damon or Team Stefan? Angel or Spike? Jack or Sawyer?  Do you love bad boys or tortured heroes?


Bad Boys are the difficult and morally complex men that women love in books, movies and TV. Emotionally distant or brutal, demanding and dishonest, uncompromising and sexually adept, these men demand a great deal from the women who love them. In fact, in romance novels, they often demand a great deal from women who don't know them at all.

What on earth makes women flock to bad boy romances? What makes women love Lestat and Captain Jack Sparrow when better men go wanting?

Strength & Self-Knowledge is Sexy
The thing is, bad men know they are bad. At least the interesting ones do. They are honest with themselves (and their women) about what they want. They have no problem taking steps to get what they want, they certainly don’t wait for permission to act. They are absolutely willing to take what they want if required.

The truth is, that's kind of an attractive trait in a man . . . because it’s attractive in anyone. The world is filled with people who won't admit to themselves what they want. Bad Boys never have that problem.

Fearless is Cool
Bad Boys may be brutal, evil, angry, violent and a hundred other things, but they generally are not afraid. Why should they be? They are the kind of men other people fear.

In a romance novel, where bad behavior rarely results in truly horrible outcomes, bad boys look like winners. In a fearful world Bad Boys are magnets that attract people who are very tired of being afraid. Who doesn't love a strong man who is determined to win every battle?

In Romance Novels There Are No Consequences
In a romance novel a bad boy can whack the heads off lots of people and never go to jail. He can abduct a woman and not find himself in prison for a decade or two. He can take a ship on the high seas and sail away with plunder. In the real world that kind of thing rarely goes well.

Bad Boys Are Models for Us All
Bad Boy romances can remind us that, like the real men we love, we too can put ourselves first. We too can be strong. We may live in a world of consequences, but we can admit to ourselves what we want and what would make us happy.

The Bad Boys
 James "Sawyer" Ford  - Lost
 James Dean - Rebel Without A Cause
 Captain Jack Sparrow - Pirates of the Caribbean 
 Damon Salvatore - The Vampire Diaries 
 Spike - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Riddick - Pitch Black 


Tortured heroes have been a favorite romance hook almost as long as romances have been hooking readers. Heathcliff, from Emily Bronte's Wuthering Heights, is another classic example of this mysterious, brooding man. But what is the allure of the tortured hero? Why do so many romance readers delight in the suffering of the brooding hero? When you think about it, it seems incredibly mean-spirited to enjoy the mental or physical pain of the man the reader is asked to fall in love with.

Inner Demons = Great Emotion
The hero's pain engages the readers’ emotions, and romance books are all about emotion. When we meet that hero with the dark wounded soul, our initial reaction is not sadistic delight in his pain, but rather a sympathetic ache, a burning desire to help, to heal, and to ease his suffering. While there is nothing the reader can do for this poor hurting man, we put our faith in the love of the heroine to rescue the hero from his pit of despair.

Conflict, Conflict, Conflict!
The hero's inner pain also adds another layer of conflict to the story. More conflict translates to more emotion for the reader, a bigger stake in the outcome of the romance. Not only must the heroine resolve the external conflict she faces to reach her goal, but in order to find true love, she must help the hero find resolution and peace from his inner demons. This theme of redemption resounds with us because we all have, to some extent, past sins, past pain and lingering heartache from which we want to be freed.

Dark and Dangerous
A tortured hero has an element of danger about him. What dark secret is he hiding? What is at the root of his pain, and will his pain suck the heroine in and ruin her as well? Danger has a titillating allure that stirs our adrenaline.

Love Sooths the Savage Beast
Tortured heroes give off a certain air of invincibility, but the reader knows better. She knows there is something lurking in his past–or present–that has the ability to cripple him physically or emotionally or both. She sees it coming and she knows he’ll eventually crumble beneath the weight of his pain. She expects the heroine to be there for him, to take his hand, to put his world to rights, to bolster him up and see that he stands tall and true.

Macho Alphas Outside with a Gooey Marshmallow Center
Brooding men are sexy. How many cologne and underwear ads have you seen where the male model is practically snarling at the camera? Plenty. Light-hearted humor is generally considered feminine or child-like, while serious introspection and toughness are traditionally masculine traits, connoting virility, competence, strength and sexual prowess. The Alpha Male. The tortured hero takes this serious brooding to an extreme, and when the heroine manages to break through the tortured hero's pain and protective walls to find the charming prince that lies beneath, she claims the best of both worlds. Tough and tender. No wonder a romantic's heart flutters for the tortured hero!

Only the Strong Survive
Our glorious tortured hero must be thrown into the crucible, dredged through the fire to be forged into a stronger man. The reader understands this and is expecting the heroine to understand it, as well. She is counting on the heroine to get the job done. When the last tear is wiped away, the last drop of blood washed off, that last lock of thick brown hair has been smoothed back, the contented reader can wipe away her own tears then sigh with relief.

The deeper the hero's pain, the greater the victory for true love. The love between the hero and heroine has been strengthened by the test of fire. He has been deemed worthy; she has been deemed his equal. He has overcome all the debilitating obstacles with her help and there is nothing standing in the way of the Happily Ever After ending he deserves.

That’s the allure of the tortured hero— the payoff that soft-hearted romantics like myself find so appealing. We are drawn to the victory when the heroine's love, faith and devotion conquer the hero's personal demons.

The Tortured Heroes
 Henry DeTamble - The Time Traveler's Wife
 Angel - Buffy the Vampire Slayer
 Louis de Pointe du Lac - Interview with a Vampire
 Edward Cullen - The Twilight Saga
 Phantom of the Opera
 Wolverine/Logan - The X-Men
 Dean Winchester - Supernatural
 Sam Winchester - Supernatural

Stefan Salvatore - The Vampire Diaries

So which type of hero do you prefer?  And who? 
Personally, I love tortured heroes. The darker his angst, the better. Bad boys tend to be a tad too arrogant for my taste. However, there is a certain southern rebel who really appeals to me.

That smoldering glower, those abrasive nicknames, the twin boyish dimples…Yeah, I wouldn’t mind being lost on a deserted island with him for six plus years.


  1. I love me some bad boys - especially Sawyer!Only in movies, shows and novels, though. Real life is all about that beautiful, tortured hero I married. :)

  2. You sure did marry a wonderful hero, Amy!

  3. I do like a bad boy and I'm surprised my Spikey isn't at the top, Angel is just a poof and he wasn't a tortured hero at all, just a vampire that was forced into having a soul.